January, a month that’s said to be for bright new beginnings and of hope-filled resolutions, can often instead feel like a vast wilderness. The holiday decorations come down, leaving the leafless trees seemingly more bare than before. The snow continues to fall but instead of answering someone’s dream for a white Christmas, it turns to gray slush forming morbid mounds in the corners of paved parking lots. Dreary January flows into February creating what for many feels like an endless season of waiting for the sun to shine once more. In this season of literal winter wilderness and the figurative wilderness of seasonal depression experienced by so many, I find it fitting that the church has traditionally marked this time of year by drawing us back to desert stories.
In the beginning of January, we celebrate Epiphany, a time spent reflecting on Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ desperate escape to Egypt. In February, we mark the beginning of Lent by meditating on Jesus’ temptation in the Judean wilderness. As I consider the coming of this winter wilderness season, I am drawn to the connections between these two stories.
There’s 30-year-old Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry. The heavens have just opened and declared him God’s son with whom God is very pleased. The enemy appears before him in that wilderness place and provides him with opportunities to take the easy road, to avoid the high cost of his ministry. In response, Jesus boldly speaks the truth- truth that he has stored up in his heart. As this 30-year-old Jesus speaks, I can see a two-year-old Jesus, clung tightly in his mother’s arms as they disappear into the night, a journey into their own wilderness of foreign land and refugee status, fleeing those who would kill them. As I hear the adult Jesus quoting the truth of scripture to his tempter, I can see toddler Jesus looking up into his mother’s eyes, the fear in his own dispelled by the confidence in hers as she boldly declares the promises she had been given- "for the Mighty One has done great things for me.”
As a mother to a son, I am captivated by the imagery of Mary fleeing to Egypt. I see her holding her son close, singing the lullaby God had given her declaring the powerful would be brought low.
As a mother to a son, I am captivated by the imagery of Mary fleeing to Egypt. I see her holding her son close, singing the lullaby God had given her declaring the powerful would be brought low. I can hear her singing with determination mingled with desperation, begging God to make it so and make it soon. I can see her refusing to let Herod have the power to write her family’s story. I can see her singing, each line of the song not changing her situation, not removing her suffering, her pain, or even her desire for this wilderness season to end, but rather providing her with renewed boldness to speak life over those who were trying to speak death to her family.
Read more by Pastor Kayleigh Clark: A Restorative Advent
May our new songs be birthed not out of naivety or ignorance, nor attempts to minimize suffering, but rather prophetic defiance that refuses to allow darkness to have the last word.
So as we enter January and face what will likely be a season of fulfilled dreams mingled with dashed hopes, when the dreariness of the weather seems to be mimicked in our souls, may we carefully consider the way Mary and Jesus lived in the wilderness. May we choose to be people who treasure in our hearts moments when the promises of God have been revealed to us or fulfilled before us. When the injustice of this world would want us to believe it has the power, might we sing a different song. May our new songs be birthed not out of naivety or ignorance, nor attempts to minimize suffering, but rather prophetic defiance that refuses to allow darkness to have the last word. Might we, with the tenacity of a young mother protecting her child from those who would seek to kill him, speak life to death, truth to lies, and light to darkness.